Widely seen as something of an autocrat, Putin has been making attempts in recent years to exhibit his softer side – perhaps as a way of competing with the incumbent, Medvedev, who's generally considered more of a liberal. A series of arranged press events saw Putin interacting with cuddly creatures: weighing a polar bear, helping to release a Persian leopard and feeding baby elks from a bottle. Last year Putin was gifted with a tiger from an anonymous donor, as well as a huge fluffy puppy from the Bulgarian prime minister, as thanks for an oil pipeline deal. Putin was snapped cuddling the new pet, and even held a "name the puppy" competition. The winning moniker? "Buffy."
Putin's rebranding has extended to to half-naked photos of him holding a fish and a gun, as well as riding a horse. Putin's been seen attending a fight with his friend Jean Claude Van Damme, and riding motorcycles with the Russian Night Wolves gang. Visiting a pro-Kremlin youth group recently, Putin scaled a climbing wall with no safety gear, partook in arm wrestling, and unsuccessfully tried to bend a frying pan with his bare hands.
The organizations of eager teenage girls, combined with Putin's macho-man antics, are likely evidence of Putin's attempt to reconnect with Russian youth, as well as a way of showing he's still physically fit, in anticipation of a possible repeat bid for the presidency in 2012. Putin was barred from seeking a third presidential term in 2008, but may well be looking to run again in 2012 – this time for 12 years. Indeed a campaign video released this week called; 'We are building a new Russia. V. Putin, would seem to indicate that may well be the case.
Although Putin's self-branding as macho figure, animal lover and ladies man may well resonate with today's Russia, these political tactics probably seem pretty alien, if not slightly ridiculous, to most US onlookers. However it's worth bearing in mind that some of Putin's strategies come straight out of the president's playbook. Indeed Amber Lee Ettinger's "I got a crush on Obama" video, showing her dancing around in a skin tight outfit, inspired a host of other copycat versions – none of which can have hurt his attempts to woo young men to the polls.
Surrounding himself with scantily clad young women, and adding a host of furry animals into the mix, Putin will at least ensure that if and when he does run, he has voters' attention.